Monday, 15 November 2010

Locality, diversity, and internet use A new study published by Keith Hampton and colleagues confirms that internet use has little if any negative impact on the diversity of people’s networks. There are now fewer and fewer voices claiming that internet use will lead to the rapid descent of the human race into dysfunctional incommunicative bestiality (religious leaders and academics like John Locke in his book The devoicing of society have tried to spread misguided alarmism). Things have settled down a bit lately and hopefully with this research, based on and reinforcing last year's Pew study (which I reviewed here), we can all get back to what we were doing. (Image from). The article assesses network diversity and technology use in relation to participation in traditional social settings including public spaces, semi-public spaces, religious institutions, voluntary groups, and through neighbourhood ties. It concludes that the use of social media primarily supports diverse networks through participation in these settings. On the whole, internet users have networks that are more diverse than those who do not use the internet, although causality cannot be demonstrated definitively: There may be bi-directionality; use of traditional social settings may drive some technology use, which in turn drives more use of the settings. The importance of local place is thoroughly re-confirmed, even without reference to neighbourhood online sites: The findings show only limited evidence that place-based relations have less resonance with Internet users; this was in one setting (neighborhoods) for one type of technology (social networking sites) – and an alternative explanation, as has been found in other research (Hampton, 2007), is that those with few neighborhood ties are more likely to adopt social media... Place is not lost as a result of the affordances of new technologies, but place-based networks are reinforced and made persistent. The authors go on to conclude that social networks may be more persistent now than at any point in modern history. ICTs afford relationship maintenance in ways that reduce the likelihood that ties will ever become completely dormant. Unlike in the past, when networks of high school and neighborhood ties were abandoned with marriage (Kalmijn, 2003) or migration (Hagan et al.,1996), it is increasingly likely that both the relation and the content of the relation’s messages remain persistent over time as “friends” on social networking services and as data stored and engaged with online. As our finding about the use of social networking services suggests, this directly benefits network diversity and access to social capital.
Discussing big society without using the words 'big society' A couple of days ago someone posted this note on the East Dulwich Forum (a very popular local site which covers an area in south London): sweep your own leaves, clean your own ice and snow: saving the council money balancing the budget Posted by ataubin November 14, 04:48PM At the Community Council Meeting on 10 November at St Faith's we were told Southwark has to cut 80 million from its budget. But where? What if we make East Dulwich a trial, a model for community (tiny) action that saves mega bucks? If every one sweeps the leaves and clears the ice and snow from the 8 metres in front of their property the council would save up to 10 million pounds. Yes, you read that correctly: 10 million if everyone did it. Seems a small action to me to save a lot of money. In an entire year it might take one hour? two?. No leaf blowers, no trucks. 10 million saved... The sequence of responses encapsulates a number of the standard responses to big society, including for example - The Perverse-Logic rejection: 'there would need to be a shed load of money spent to advertise this so people knew they had to' (which seems to deny the power of the local online network itself to do this bit for nothing). The Naive-Detection-of-Fatal-Flaw parry: 'Great idea and no problem doing it but my street has quite a lot of older people living on it. Would they be expected to clear up? If they don't then how will it work with half the street clear and the rest not?' The I-Couldn't-Possibly-Where-Are-The-Servants? riposte (not for the novice, a difficult niche genre this one but supremely performed here): 'I don't mean to be unhelpful but I own neither broom nor shovel (dustpan and brush aside). Having traversed the mulchy leaves in frippantly high heels, I know this is a task that needs doing, but I'm afraid my tools are not fit for purpose.' The We're-So-Rubbish-In-This-Country-Other-Places-Do-It-Better standard proclamation: 'In Germany and parts of the US and Canada you have to clear the path in front of your house of snow by law.' The Informative-Intervention by a ward councillor: 'The Snow code highlights good practice to clear snow from pavements and paths such that you can avoid being successfully sued - which is a commonly given reason for people saying why they haven't cleared the pavement outside their home.' The Calm-Sensible-Intervention by same: 'Their (sic) will never be enough council employees to clear all pavements outside homes - hundreds of kilometres of pavements. But if residents clear the pavement outside their home the effects of the snow would be dramatically reduced. This really helps reduce peoples isolation.' The Defence-Of-Jobs-Above-All-Else deflection: 'I presume more people would be made unemployed by this thus money would have to be spent supporting them and their families?' The Completely-Miss-The-Point-Damnd-If-I-Will blurting-out (exquisitely executed in this example): 'Considering the amount of council tax we pay I personally wont be sweeping any...

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